What exactly is a pinched nerve?

 

Hearing the phrase “I pinched a nerve” is very common and many people have experienced nerve pain or related muscle weakness before. But what exactly is a pinched nerve, how do you know if you have one. 

What is it?

To understand what exactly a pinched nerve is we must first know what nerves are and how they work. Nerves are very special cells that make up our nervous system. They send messages in the form of electrical signals called nerve impulses from one area of the body to another.  There are many different types of nerves and their functions and roles are complex. 

A pinched nerve occurs when the surrounding tissues compress the nerve. The surrounding tissue that compresses the nerves could be ligaments, tendons, muscles and bone, depending on where the area of compression occurs. The pressure causes the nerve to become irritated and inflamed. The pressure disrupts the nerves function causing many different symptoms including pain, weakness, and numbness or tingling. If you think of a nerve as a hose, when a hose is pinched the water can’t flow as quickly. When a nerve has pressure against it, the signals do not flow as easily. This disrupts the nerves control of the muscle that it connects with. Some nerves travel long distances throughout the body. So compression in one area of a nerve, might cause related symptoms somewhere else along the nerves path. Often pain, tingling and numbness occurs along the path of the nerve. 


What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of a pinched nerve are.

  • Weakness in a muscle
  • Tingling (pins and needles)
  • Numbness
  • Pain

Symptoms often occur farther along the path of where the nerve is compressed. For example, if a nerve is compressed in the low back, you may feel weakness or numbness in the thigh down towards the foot.

Some areas of the body are more prone to injuries that involve a pinched nerve. For example, sciatica, involves pressure on the sciatic nerve, which causes radiating pain and numbness down the leg. Or carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of a pinched nerve that causes weakness in grip strength and numbness and pain in the thumb, index and middle finger.


What does it mean?

The good news is that pinched nerves are treatable, once they have been properly diagnosed. A physiotherapist can identify which nerve is impacted plan the proper course of treatment.

Pinched nerves are more common in repetitive motions, and often occur in athletes. Long held poor posture habits, arthritis, obesity or many other situations can also caused pinched nerves. If the issue is addressed quickly, there is most often no long term nerve damage. However if a pinched nerve is not treated or addressed it can lead to long-term nerve damage. If you think you might be experiencing a pinched nerve, come on in and get it checked out sooner rather than later!

A physiotherapist will help you manage and treat a pinched nerve in multiple ways. The first step is to help reduce inflammation of the nerve to relieve pain symptoms. 

  • Reduce Inflammation - ice and rest, are important to help reduce inflammation of the irritated nerve, and help relieve pain. 
  • Posture Education and Pain Management 
  • Manual therapy 
  • Stretching and Range of Motion Exercises 
  • Strenghening 

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